The Nashville Predators (23-18-6) take on the New Jersey Devils (31-12-4) at Bridgestone Arena tonight. A game that fans can expect a lot of back-and-forth action, the Predators need to get on the board early and often to secure a win in front of the home crowd.
This will be the final game before the NHL All Star break, with the next Predators game not being until February 7th. The Predators are notorious for struggling coming off a break in play, however, a win tonight would provide some much-needed momentum and hopefully turn things around for this team.
Tuesday night in Smashville saw a Predators team that put forth a stingy defensive effort to secure a huge win over the Winnipeg Jets.
While the Jets scored first, less than a minute into the game, that would be the only time that they beat Juuse Saros and the support of the blue line.
Nashville answered the call after the Jets goal and scored two unanswered goals. These goals came from a beautiful tip in the slot by Cody Glass in the second period, followed up by Tanner Jeannot getting the monkey off his back in the scoring column.
Alexandre Carrier left the game early after fighting a much bigger Logan Stanley in the first period and the Predators updated his condition on Thursday stating that he will miss the next 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury. Kevin Gravel will fill in on the blue line for the time being in his absence.
Nashville Predators face the Devils for the final time this season
The Predators played the Devils on December 1 in New Jersey on the front end of a back-to-back set. During that game the Predators jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after the first period scoring just 11 seconds into the game and again with 44 seconds left in the period.
New Jersey came back though in the second period scoring three unanswered goals, two of which were on the man advantage, to lead 3-2 heading into the final frame. Nashville weathered the storm and got a late goal by Mikael Granlund with just ten seconds left in the game.
Heading into overtime, where anything can happen with the open ice of 3-on-3 hockey, Matt Duchene had an aggressive forecheck surrounded by all three New Jersey players. Due to being surrounded, Duchene knew exactly where Ryan Johansen would be, playing the puck on his backhand to the high slot area where Johansen sniped a one timer past Vitek Vanecek.
Juuse Saros got the start in that game and made 25 saves on 28 shots posting a .893 save percentage. All of the New Jersey goals came within a five minute time frame in the early stages of the second period where the Predators could not stay out of the box.
One positive note on this game was where the scoring came from. Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm, Cole Smith, Roman Josi, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Duchene all had assists in this game. Colton Sissons and Mikael Granlund both beat Vanecek and Johansen found the back of the net twice.
The Nashville Predators have not lost to the Devils in regulation at home since January 19, 2009 and have a 10-0-3 record since March 3, 2015. Pair that with the New Jersey Devils having the best road record in the NHL this season and this is a matchup to watch for sure.
Players to watch in this East vs. West matchup
The New Jersey Devils have been on fire this season with a 31-12-4 record, putting them second in the Metropolitan Division behind the Carolina Hurricanes. Jack Hughes leads the hot Devils team with 30 goals and 30 assists in 47 games this season. The young 21-year-old forward has already played in 213 NHL games in his short career.
Hughes has been on a tear as of late with nine goals and nine assists in the Devils last ten games. He has averaged 21:05 TOI during that stretch and is a +3. A very disciplined young player, Hughes has only gone to the penalty box for two minor penalties this season. Give him any space on the ice and he will make a play happen.
Vitek Vanecek should get the nod in goal tonight for the Devils. Vanecek has played in 31 games in the 2022-23 season starting 28 of those. He has a 20-5-2 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.30 goals against average.
If the Predators can get a shorthanded opportunity though, this is one area that Vanecek struggles in only having a .864 save percentage on shorthanded tries by opposing teams this season.
Vanecek has been lights out on the road this season posting a record of 11-1-1 away from the Prudential Center. In those games away from home ice he has a .915 save percentage and 2.43 goals against average.
Juuse Saros is expected to start in net for the Predators. After allowing a goal on just the second shot on goal against the Jets, Saros made the next 31 saves to give the Predators a 2-1 victory.
Saros, after a slow start to the season, has bounced back and is back to playing his Vezina Trophy nominee style of hockey, having a .920 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average.
In his last five starts Saros has a 3-2 record posting a phenomenal .970 save percentage Tuesday night and a .974 save percentage last week against the Calgary Flames. At home Saros has a 12-6-3 record with a .925 save percentage and 2.70 GAA in 21 games played.
Keys to Beating the Devils
To put out the fire of this New Jersey Devils team the Predators need to get on the board first. This team has played well with a lead this season but has struggled when playing behind on the scoreboard.
The Predators have a 11-2-3 record on home ice when they score first but on the flip side, a 2-5-0 record when the opponent scores first at home.
Likewise, the Predators have not lost a game in regulation on home ice when they are leading after 20 minutes of play and when they trail after one, they only have one win to their name. The New Jersey Devils are a tough road team, they have a 18-2-2 record as the visitor.
Special teams will play another factor into this game. The Devils have a 21.4% power play unit and have an 81.5% success rate on the penalty kill. Follow that up with the Predators terrible 16.2% power play, it can be expected that the Devils will not only be looking to kill off the penalties but generate shorthanded opportunities.
The Nashville Predators only have two goals on the man advantage in their last six games while the Devils have four power play goals and a shorthanded goal in their last six contests.
Buckle up Predators fans. With two points tonight the Predators could find themselves just one point outside the final playoff position in the Central Division. At this point of the season, every single game matters.